December 8th, 2009 21:01 EST
Big Taxes and too Much Government Start at Home
Van Buskirk`s Drug Store has been on the corner of Partition and Main Streets in Saugerties, New York, since 1895. It says so on the facade. But it`s not a drugstore anymore. At street level it`s the Tango Cafe, specializing in Argentine-Italian cuisine. The farmer`s market postcards found everywhere in the village offer goodies for Passover, and a corner parking lot features a Christmas tree and a menorah. On a corner across the street from The Tango is the well regarded Inquiring Mind Bookstore, a small cultural dynamo in a town that in 1985 was less than inquiring.
In many ways this is a picture of America at a crossroads. Washington is full of people who are nostalgic for Van Buskirk`s America. The presidency of George W. Bush was the epitome of that uninquiring nostalgia. But Partition and Main today represent our demographics, the distance we have traveled from 1895, for good or ill. Some of us are poignantly at a loss for that street corner as it was then, and some of us, a majority judging by the last election, are ready for a more inclusive and representative America.
Tea Party America longs for the year Van Buskirk`s was raised, a time in which nobody would have thought of mentioning Passover or erecting a public menorah, and an Argentine cafe would have been thought as fey a notion as Lewis Carroll`s Jabberwocky. I myself have lived long enough to remember a different Saugerties, a more conservative and homogenous Saugerties. I remember reserved " signs on inns in nearby Woodstock "meaning no Jews or African-Americans or anybody who didn`t look like the owners` cousins. I remember rosters of public officials whose names would have been familiar to our revolutionary patriots, the names with which Tea Party America is most comfortable, not names like Obama and Pelosi.
Yes, in Woodstock, famous now for its liberal and bohemian ways "in my lifetime it was a bastion of xenophobes and quasi-xenophobes who liked the newcomers` money a lot more than the newcomers, a familiar story as America`s cities started bulging at the seams.
Tea Party America says it is about taxes and too much government, but I don`t believe that any more than I believed as a young reporter and poet that the Southern Strategy of the Republican Party was about family values and the American Way, unless of course the American Way meant racism and injustice.
I think Tea Party America, like the Southern Strategy partisans, is talking code, saying one thing and meaning another. I think Tea Party America hankers for those reserved signs. I think what it doesn`t like about government is not its size but its hesitant progress towards a more just America, an America that more truly represents all its people, not just white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) and corporations.
You don`t have to be s racial profiler to look at the news day after day and see we are largely represented "misrepresented is the handier word "by that street corner as it was in 1895. Indeed, not to see it, you must be a racist profiler. Our governments "local, state and federal "simply don`t look like our demographics. That is a compelling definition of inequality and injustice. And Tea Party America wants to make sure it stays that way. Tea Party America, while bad-mouthing Washington, wants to pretend that Washington looks like the troops it sends to Iraq and Afghanistan. But it doesn`t, and that should be the nightly news refrain, not the endless he said/she said drivel about the fallout from health care reform. A press that can`t bring itself to challenge this disconnect is part of the problem, not the solution. I say this sadly as a newspaperman who spent much of his life regarding the press as the people`s last resort.
Why am I saying these dicey things about Tea Party America? Well, I`ve been a newspaper reporter and editor for a long time, and I know as well as every Tea Party demonstrator that too much government and too much taxation start at home, not Washington. If you want to reduce taxes, you must streamline government and stop duplication and patronage and gerrymandering "all the things conservatives don`t want to do because it would weaken their grip on rural and exurban areas, the grip that gives them disproportionate representation in legislatures. Too much local government and gerrymandering are the gifts that keep on giving " to the Tea Partygoers who so boisterously complain of too much government and too much taxation.
All this talk about encroaching government in Washington, all this blaming Washington for high taxes, it`s all a ruse. And the Republicans and the Tea Partyers aren`t the only ones playing it, not by a long shot. Jimmy Carter and his provincials came to Washington bad-mouthing the very civil service they needed to carry out their agenda. Al Gore damned near destroyed the civil service with his foolish reinvention of government, trying to contract government work out to private business.
It didn`t need any reinvention. What it needed was for politicians of every stripe to stop trying to corrupt it. It`s the best civil service in the world. It still was when the Georgia good ole boys arrived in town and it was the best even when ham-handed Al Gore completely demoralized practically every agency, bureau and department. If the politicians who keep running against the civil service wanted to keep taxes in line and improve government, they would stop trying to farm out pieces of it to profiteers who pay them back with campaign contributions.
And the Tea Partyers know this as surely as the Southern Strategists of the 1960s knew they weren`t talking about any values except the value to them of keeping minorities down.
It`s an old story, this talking about one thing and meaning another, talking about big government and meaning a white America, talking about high taxes and meaning to bamboozle people into thinking all the trouble starts in Washington. They know perfectly well it starts at home where their cronies are running the show. They know the tax burden comes more from too much local government and patronage than it does from Washington. But you don`t get your fingers burned when you joust at Washington, whereas local government is up close and personal.
When the nation elected its first African-American president there was high hope that he would lead us towards an America that lives in concert with its demographics, but it`s beginning to look as if the President enjoys the company of an elite that looks back to 1895 as the high-water mark of our destiny.
The American yacht Defender won the Americas Cup the year Van Buskirk`s Drug Store opened. The first automobile race was held that year. The Spanish-American War, fueled by the Hearst newspaper chain much as the Iraq war was fueled by Fox News and CNN, was three years away. It would turn an isolationist and anti-colonialist America into a colonial empire. Our innocence was about to come to an end, the Monroe Doctrine a mockery.
It`s interesting that Tea Party America, so nostalgic for the way we were, is not similarly nostalgic for our staunch opposition to imperialism and foreign adventures.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.